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Revisiting The Five Best Draft Classes Of The David Poile Era

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David Poile drafted Shea Weber in the second round in 2003
Photo of Shea Weber by John Russell/Nashville Predators

Following the 2023 NHL Draft, David Poile retired after 25 years as the general manager of the Nashville Predators, putting a stamp on his Hall of Fame career.

Over the next few weeks, Nashville Hockey Now will reflect back on the last two-and-a-half decades, highlighting the good and not-so-great moments from Poile’s tenure as Predators GM.

The Predators have had moderate success building through the draft, but when they hit on their picks, they really hit on them. Drafting a true, top-of-the-lineup forward has always eluded them, but Poile and the scouting department thrived in the later rounds when other teams were presumably on autopilot.

Below are the top five Predators draft classes from Poile’s tenure:

No. 1 – 2003

Notable picks: Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein, Shea Weber

Of the six All-Stars Poile drafted with Nashville, one-third of them came from this class (the same can be said for his 2013 class as well).

At one point, Weber and Suter were considered the top defensive pairing in the NHL before the latter bolted to Minnesota in 2012, and Klein was the most reliable No. 3 defenseman the team had for a six-season period.

For the better part of a decade, Weber was the face of the Predators franchise. He tallied 40 or more points and scored double-digit goals in eight seasons, including three 20-goal seasons. He’s the franchise leader in power-play goals (80), and he ranks third all-time in franchise history in goals (166), fourth in assists (277), fifth in points (443) and sixth in game-winning goals (24) despite not playing for the Predators since 2016.

In his seven seasons, Suter scored 38 goals and 238 points with a plus-43 rating while averaging 24:24 of ice time per game. He ended his run with the team scoring 30 or more points in each of his final five seasons, finishing in the top 10 in Norris Trophy voting in 2011.

Weber, Suter and Klein combined for 220 goals and 763 points over 1,708 games played for the Predators, while Weber and Suter have 10 All-Star selections, three NHL first All-Star team selections (similar to the NFL’s First Team All-Pro honors) and two NHL second All-Star selections between them.

No. 2 – 2009

Notable picks: Ryan Ellis, Craig Smith, Mattias Ekholm, Gabriel Bourque

It was tempting to put this class in the top spot considering Ellis, Ekholm and Smith were key pieces in the most fruitful stretch in team history that included the 2016-17 Stanley Cup run, the 2017-18 Presidents’ Trophy team and the first two Central Division titles in team history. However, given Weber and Suter’s individual accomplishments, it was hard to place them anywhere but No. 1.

While the important of plus/minus is hotly debated, there’s no denying Ellis’ plus-114 rating and Ekholm’s plus-104 rating — the two best career marks in franchise history — is quite impressive. In 10 seasons, Ellis amassed 75 goals and 270 points (including 59 power-play points) while averaging 20:51 of ice time per game. He quarterbacks the power play on a regular basis and had the versatility to play with any line-mate on any pairing the team put him on.

Conversely, Ekholm totaled 62 goals and 268 points over 12 seasons while averaging 21:48 of ice time per game. He played on the shutdown pairing with P.K. Subban during the team’s Cup run, was a staple on the top four, and was consistently one of the NHL’s top penalty killers for the last handful of years.

Smith was a model of consistency, tallying five 20-goal seasons and regularly hovering around the 40-50 point range while playing up and down the lineup at all three forward spots. Bourque only played parts of five seasons with the Predators, but he his elite speed and skating ability were invaluable at times and his defensive ability was often overlooked (he had 371 hits, 142 blocked shots and 83 takeaways in 242 games).

No. 3 – 2008

Notable picks: Colin Wilson, Roman Josi, Anders Lindback

Considering the career he’s had, Roman Josi falling to the 38th overall pick seems like highway robbery. One of the top offensive defensemen in the NHL, Josi has scored double-digit goals in nine of the last 10 seasons and logged 50 or more points in seven of them. He’s a four-time All-Star, a two-time First All-Star Team selection and a Norris Trophy winner. There’s a good chance he becomes the second Predator to have his number retired once he calls it a career.

Wilson will likely always be remembered for not quite living up to his potential, but he always turned it on when the playoffs started. He topped 20 goals and 40 points just once and never became the top-line player he was drafted to be.

Lindback’s time with the Predators was short, but he had decent success. He posted a 16-13-2 record with a 2.52 goals-against average and .914 save percentage backing up Pekka Rinne, including an 11-5-2 mark during the 2010-11 season that kept the Predators in the playoff picture while Rinne was injured. He was traded to Tampa Bay for a pair of second-round picks that eventually became Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg.

No. 4 – 2004

Notable picks: Alex Radulov, Pekka Rinne

Although Radulov only played for the Predators for two seasons, he flashed top-six potential and looked to be the club’s first franchise-changing forward. Radulov had an impressive 18-goal, 37-point rookie season, breaking Martin Erat’s franchise record for points by a rookie, and followed it up with a 26-goal, 58-point season before bolting to the KHL.

Outside of the NHL, Radulov totaled 169 goals and 492 points in 391 games with Salavat Yulaev Ufa and CSKA Moscow, winning a Gagarin Cup (the KHL version of the Stanley Cup) and four Continental Cups (the KHL version of the Presidents’ Trophy).

Finding Rinne in the eighth round will go down as one of the biggest draft steals in NHL history. Over his 15-year career, Rinne became the Predators all-time leader in games (683), wins (369), goals-against average (2.43), saves (17,627) shutouts (60) and total ice time (39,413:29).

He ranks 19th on the NHL’s all-time wins list and his 369 wins are the most for a Finnish-born goaltender in NHL history. On top of winning a Vezina Trophy (2018) and a King Clancy Memorial Trophy (2021) with four All-Star appearances and two year-end NHL All-Star Team selections, Rinne is the only player in Predators history to have his number retired and a statue outside of Bridgestone Arena.

No. 5 – 2013

Notable picks: Seth Jones, Juuse Saros

In his three seasons in Nashville, Jones scored 15 goals and 63 points while averaging 19:44 of ice time per game. Perhaps Jones’ biggest contribution to the Predators was a trade that netted the team Ryan Johansen, who led the franchise to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final.

Though most of Jones’ success came after he was traded, that doesn’t change the fact that Poile drafted a five-time All-Star who’s finished in the top 10 in Norris Trophy voting twice. He also has the designation of being only the second top-five pick in franchise history.

Filling Rinne’s shoes is no easy feat, but Saros has done a bang-up job so far. A three-time All-Star and a member of the All-Rookie Team in 2018, Saros has finished in the top six in Vezina Trophy voting three times, including being a finalist two seasons ago.

Saros has won 147 of his 269 starts with a 2.58 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Since becoming the Predators full-time starter in 2020, Saros ranks second in wins (92) and saves (4,857), third in save percentage (.920), fifth in goals-against average (2.59) and tied for eighth in shutouts (9). Not bad for a fourth-round pick.

Honorable mention:

2015 — notable picks: Yakov Trenin, Tommy Novak, Alex Carrier

2014 — notable picks: Kevin Fiala, Viktor Arvidsson

Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_